NOTE: IF you are a widow in need of help, you may want to go
Congressional Quarterly Politics
CQ TODAY MIDDAY UPDATE (for full context and article about Obama's work toward stopping this abuse go
Dec. 12, 2008 – 1:30 p.m.
The Veterans Affairs Department has been wrongfully recovering money from widows of deceased veterans over the last 12 years by demanding reimbursement for final benefits checks in violation of federal law.
Sen. Daniel K. Akaka , D-Hawaii, the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, confronted the department last week about the problem, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of senior citizens losing pension and disability money received during the month of their spouse’s death.
“This flawed practice has caused serious hardship for many widows,” Akaka said. “I suspect that the improper procedures have harmed thousands of widows and widowers over the last 12 years.”
Congress granted veterans’ spouses the right to keep their partner’s final month of benefits when it passed the Veterans’ Benefits Improvements Act of 1996. The law instructed the department to treat disability and pension checks issued during the month of a veteran’s death “as being payable to a surviving spouse.”
But the department never adjusted its systems to follow the law. As a result, the department has routinely either refused to send checks or taken active measures to retrieve money already sent, including collection actions.
Akaka brought up the issue in a Dec. 5 letter to Secretary James B. Peake, asking him to immediately take steps to identify all the spouses affected, pay them their missing benefits, and fix the system.
Akaka’s press secretary, Jesse Broder Van Dyke, said there was no evidence officials intentionally withheld any money. “It was something that slipped through the cracks,” he said. “They’re using an automated system, so they needed to go and change the program, but they never did.”
Peake responded Thursday with a tentative action plan to fix the benefits problem over the coming months, saying “I agree that this problem must be fixed.”
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